by Rudyard Kipling
Kim Theme of Loyalty
Our hero Kim is an orphan, but he has about a billion parent figures (and we swear, we're barely exaggerating): the lama, Mahbub Ali, Creighton, Lurgan, the Kulu woman—even the Babu could count as a slightly annoying older-brother-figure. All of these characters are linked together by affection and a sense of responsibility rather than by ties of blood. The novel Kim strongly emphasizes the importance of networks between people who can provide emotional (and financial and professional) support for one another.
At the same time, Kipling's emphasis on personal attachment has some definite political implications. For example, the novel describes the (fictional) rebellion against British authority by the Five Kings in the north of India as treason (15.82)—in other words, as a betrayal of the personal ties between colonial India and the British Empire.
And it is Kipling's assumptions about the moral and emotional rightness of the bonds between India and Britain that has made Kim such a controversial, complicated novel now that India is a strong, independent nation in its own right. (For more on Kipling's pro-imperialist ideas about India, check out our "In a Nutshell" section.)
Questions About Loyalty
- Is Kim's personal loyalty to all of his parent figures—Mahbub Ali, Creighton, Lurgan, the Kulu woman, the lama—always the same? What factors might influence how Kim expresses his personal attachment to each these characters?
- How does Kipling describe the loyalty he sees (or wants to see) between Britain and India? What are both countries getting out of their loyalty to each other in Kim? How does Kipling portray disloyalty between nations?
- How do the characters in Kim who are not Kim express loyalty to one another? What bonds do we see among the not-Kim characters in this book? Does Kipling portray the loyalty of all of the novel's characters in the same light, or are there differences between the ways that the major and minor characters express personal attachment?
Chew on This
Even though they are all working secretly for the British Indian government, Kim's relationship with Mahbub Ali is deeply emotional, while his bonds with Creighton and Lurgan are more purely professional. The formal loyalty Kim shares with his Sahib mentors suggests that Kipling associates Creighton and Lurgan more closely with the institutions of government than Mahbub Ali.
By emphasizing close personal ties between characters of all races in the setting of British India, Kipling portrays the colonial relationship between India and the British Empire as a mutually positive and helpful one.